I ran a couple errands before work and was now running a bit late. The day before I had informed my boss that I would be late, so there was no need to rush other than softening the blow to my pay check. The sky threatened rain on this Saturday, a sure sign that the shop wouldn’t be slammed the instant the doors opened. Considering those factors I opted for steady pressure on the pedals. Not slow, but not fast by any means.
Just before the entrance to the innerurban trail I saw someone coming from the opposite direction on a bike. I went left and he turned right, filling in behind me. My neglected legs were tired but I still felt the need to be “on the front”. After a moment he came around me and stole a glance at the red fendered steed I was riding.
He was on a maroon steel Bianchi, which like mine, sported eight speeds and downtube shifters.
“You too” I managed to stammer out as the pace upped.
Our bikes were the only thing about us that was similar. Saturday being an “easy” day I was riding in jeans and a soft shell jacket with a big pack strapped to my shoulders. You know, casual. The only concession to my normally kitted out appearance were the Giro road shoes on my feet. He wore a busted up pair of Keen hiking shoes which were crammed into a set of MKS toe clips. Other than his shoes we was in full kit, topped off with a skate helmet.
I struggled to hold his wheel because, well like I said earlier, I’ve been neglecting my legs. I don’t know why it mattered to me. I do know that I wasn’t about to get dropped. Call it pride. Call it stupidity (aren’t they close to the same thing?) Call it wanting to feel like I was racing again.
At a stop sign there was a car with the right away waiting for us to pass in front of them. We slowed and I waved them on and neither of us having put a foot down continued to pedal after they passed.
“I hate when they have the right away but insist on waiting for us to go though” I said, trying to sound casual as the pace started to pick up again.
“Yeah, I don’t know why people do that” he said.
Did I detect a hint of gasping for air in his voice?
Now I took over the pace making. We were back on the trail and i pointed out posts in the center of the path, vered us around the runners with a wave of my hand and a “on your left!”. I was conscious of what I was doing. If there is one aspect of cycling I am just slightly above mediocre at it is the subtle upping of the pace. “Turning the screws” I once heard a Eurosport commentator call it.
I wasn’t always like this. I don’t normally partake in Category Six commuter races. Once, a few years ago while out on a recovery ride I was passed by a guy on a folding bike with twenty-inch wheels. He was wearing a sports coat, on his way to work, a yellow painier next to his back wheel.
There were other times when a commuter or a weekend rider would blow by me with a quick glance over their shoulder urging me to chase them. Letting them go was so easy. I had my agenda, and I didn’t need to compete with them. Besides chances were I could keep my current pace and catch them several blocks later after they’d blown their top and were pedaling squares. Now I’m locked in a behavior I kind of detest, yet I feel powerless to stop it.
I keep the pace while we ride up the street overpass. He’s still there tucked into my draft as we head toward the only real hill on the ride. I consider flicking my elbow and having him pull through but don’t. I tell myself I’m just hurrying to work, that I’m not racing this guy.
I shift up one gear before dropping to the little ring. I’m not strong enough to take this in the big ring. Glancing over my shoulder I can see him there, feel him on my wheel. We’re flying up the hill. Can feel him start to slip? Just
shy of the top I do what I always do, shift up to the big ring.
At least now the line between this Cat Six race and regular commute are blurred.
I pedal the descent on the other side of the overpass. I try to look over my shoulder for him but my hood is in the way. I continue pedaling, hands in the drops and low over the bike. I move my hood with my left hand and check again. I’ve freed him from my wheel. What I do next makes me feel bad about myself.
I shift up a gear, go back to the drops and slide back on my saddle. My greatest race move of this season won’t be causing the break in some circuit race, or bridging up to the winning move, or leading out a teammate in the final 500m. It is, sadly, dropping a guy on commute to work on a Saturday morning.
I only look over my shoulder one more time. He’s no where near bridging the gap up to me, but I keep on the pace. Hammering the last little rise and through the last bit of tree lined and root destroyed path to work. I almost take my hands off the bars in mock victory salute, but I return to my senses before I can debase myself further.